Sunday, August 16, 2009

The Ozette Coastal Wilderness Loop, Olympic National Park, Washington

Distance: 9.1 miles (14.6 km)
Time: 3-4 Hours
Difficulty: Moderate
Season: March to November, but watch for storms and high tides

The Ozette loop is probably one of the easiest 9-mile loops you can find, but provides for a diversity of scenary, ecosystems, and historical aspects that makes it one of our favorite trails in Olympic National Park. The loop provides opportunities to hike on a boardwalk across a coastal cedar swamp, through a bog containing carnivorous sundews, onto the rugged rocky coastline full of wonderful tidepools, and past ancient native petroglyphs on the rocks.

The trail begins at Lake Ozette in the northwestern corner of the Olympic Peninsula, approximately 40 minutes from Sekiu. At the Lake Ozette Ranger Station is a parking area designated for hikers. From here there are two trails to choose from. One heads 3.0 miles to Cape Alava and the other 3.1 miles to Sand Point. You can choose either, but my recommendation is to head to Sand Point first.

Why Sand Point first? Two reasons; First, the sun will be behind you when you reach the coast, so it won't be in your eyes and the scenary is better lit. Secondly, it is easier to spot the petroglyphs from that direction.

The trail heads through a forest of western hemlock and western red cedar, with Sitka spruce and Douglas firs also present. In some of the soggier places the trail is on a boardwalk, while it does also go onto the ground as well. This area recieves more than 100 inches of rain per year, so you could consider it a rainforest. But, the trees are not nearly as big as at the Hoh or Quinault. The reasons are two fold; the grounds is actually too moist for trees to grow well and because much of the area was burned or logged in the 19th century. There are occassional clearings in the forest, where intreped pioneers tried to eek out a living with homesteads in the woods. Their attempts were not very successful, but their legacy remains.

After 3.1 miles, you will arrive at the Pacific Ocean at Sand Point. Sand Point is a large rock sticking into the ocean, protecting a strip of sand on each side. A climb to the top of the rock provides a great overview of the area. Look out into the kelp forests off shore for sea otters and a little further out for migrating Gray Whales.

From Sand Point turn north and head up the coast. If the tide is low, spectacular tide pools become abundant. Every number of creature is available for exploring, including crabs, 200 year old sea anemonies, magnificent ochre sea stars, gunnels and sculpins, several types of barnacles, and much more.

Approximately 2 miles up from Sand Point, you will come across a large rock formation jutting out into the ocean. As you approach it from the crescent-shaped sandy beach, start looking at the back of the rocks for the Wedding Rocks Petroglyphs. These shapes, which include whales, orca, human shapes, and even a european ship were carved into the rocks over several hundred years. Please do not touch these delicate and fantastic archaeological treasures.

After another mile, you will arrive at Cape Alava, the westernmost point of the continental United States. Just off shore is Ozette Island and if you look due north you can see Vancouver Island. It is here that the trail turns inland back toward the lake.

As you reenter the forest and onto the boardwalk, you will enter some large open bogs where the cedars struggle to survive. This is Ahlstrom's Prairie. It is here that a homestead was established, through burning and cutting away the already struggling brush. The trees have been very slow to reestablish themselves on this acidic nutrient-poor substrait. If you get down and look carefully in the sphagnum moss you can see the tiny carnivorous sundews with their tiny red droplets of death.

After 3 miles through forest and bog you will return to the lake parking lot with an adventure to remember!


Unknown said...

Very nice trail, great photos.

Brickman said...

I walked the north part of this from the parking area to the coast and back a few years ago, it was a wonderful hike, one of the places I really hope to return to one day.

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